Adriana Cisneros, CEO of Cisneros: "I think when you have a crisis... it is kind of a unique opportunity to really think about what matters to the core of [a] business and rethink it.


Today's episode is sponsored by stay. Lauder the nighttime skin-care expert will explain in a bit but first let's get into the episode. I think when you have a crisis like the one we're having right now. It is kind of a unique opportunity to really think about what really matters to the core of that business and we think I'm carly's aged. I'm Danielle Weisberg. Welcome to skim from the couch. This podcast is where we go deep on career advice from women who have lifted from the good stuff like hiring and growing a team to the rough stuff like negotiating your salary and giving or getting hard feedback. We started the skin from a couch. So what better place to talk it? All out than where it began on a couch. This show might sound a bit different today. Because we're skimming from three different couches. The scam is working from home for the time being because of covert nineteen today Adriana Cisneros joins us on skimmed from the couch. She is the CEO OF CISNEROS. A Global Enterprise focused on media digital advertising real estate and social leadership. Adriana is the third generation at the helm of her family's company she's also the president of whom does Jones is narrows her family's nonprofit organization dedicated to improving education in Latin America Adriana. Were very excited to have you with us today. Welcome to skimmed from the couch. Thank you so much. I'm thrilled to be here. So we are going to jump in like we do all episodes. GotTa give me your estimate for us. So I grew up in Venezuela. That's where I was born and went to school in one thousand nine hundred ninety eight. I moved to New York. I went to Columbia Undergrad and then I went to Nyu where I studied journalism. I was in the investigative reporting program there which was really cool. I had a few jobs in the middle mostly around journalism including one at ABC. And then I went back to school. I went to Harvard where I did the program for leadership development and a bunch of other finance courses and then I started working for the family business soon after that I began as head of strategy and then as I was tapped to become. Ceo of the Family Group. My started making a move towards Miami and I've been in Miami now for about seven years. Seo What is something that is not on your link. Dan or former professional bio that we should know about you. Let's see I would say that? Probably what I spend the most time on that. No one really knows is on endurance. Sports what is that mean? I? I'm happiest with the backpack in the outdoors. I love climbing very big mountains. I also like crossing countries on a bicycle a road bike and I tend to do very long rides on the weekends. What is a very long ride? One hundred miles on south and we take between four and six hours depends on sort of the the route definitely sporty but it has to be doors so give me a pair of skins and. I'm the happiest person on a mountain. That's amazing so your grandfather started your family business in the nineteen twenty s which has grown to a multibillion dollar operation. I want to start off with something that may seem basic but what is. Ceo mean when the company is that big. What is your job? Look like on a day to day so I think we're a little bit different for most family businesses. That are around. In most cases family businesses that survive beyond the third generation tend to only be in one industry and just focus on that one thing from the time of my grandfather when he started our business. He always thought more of his core team as a team that was leading a a holding company and every ten or fifteen years he would do a deep dive into a different sector industry or geography that he thought was interesting and that very much was something that my father continued with N. It's very much the spirit of what we do today. So what? We're focused on right now or in. This decade has really has nothing to do with what we were doing. Maybe fifteen or twenty years ago but I think they saw me an opportunity to bring a very young and fresh perspective into what we should be doing next and just for audience. How old were you in your tap to FIA? The conversation started very quietly only between our former CEO and my father when I was twenty seven and it was a conversation that took place over the course of three years in which. I really didn't think I was ready for the job or I wanted it but I was willing to listen and to figure out what I needed to do to train to be able to make that decision so that was a a three year process and that's when I went back to school and kind of honed in on a few skills that I that I had to develop further so back to your original question. What does being? Ceo Look like for me. Today I would say that the first two years it was really about deconstructing and rebuilding and in the previous few years it's been more about leadership and execution. We're going to dive into what it is like to take the reins in business that your father grandfather released at the legacy for but for our listeners. Who might not be familiar with the depths of just? How huge narrow says. Can you just skim? What the company is so? The company was started by my grandfather. In Venezuela in the mid twenty s he was probably one of the more advanced in radical thinkers of the era and of the American content. I would say he was a big dreamer And he was very good at executing his dreams. He came from a middle class family. His father died when he was very young. His widowed mother moved to Trinidad to live with her sister and put him in an English boarding school and when he was seventeen he went back to Venezuela to join a cousin and the reason. I like to tell that part of the story is because he was one of the few people that spoke English so they had this idea. The first buses had just arrived in the country and they had this idea of turning the trucks into buses for people and developed a whole network of public transportation. So fast forward you know. He ended up buying about thirty trucks that he turned into buses and he had just enough money to buy himself in his cousin. Two tickets on a boat to go to New York to the world's fair and when they were there they tasted pepsi-cola for the first time and he really thought that Pepsi was disgusting but truly revolutionary and convinced Pepsi to give him the rights to bring the product to Latin America. So that was sort of the beginning of his desire to bring. American goods into the region that he thought would resonate the next adventure that he had was he started a TV network. Which at the time was only six private TV network in the world So you know a true visionary and then unfortunately he had a stroke when he was quite young and my father ended up taking the family business when he was only twenty five and he continued on this path he ended up being the one that brought apple computers to Latin America. He launched direct TV in Latin America which was true of the revolutionary. He was obsessed with this idea that they were products. Available to bring connectivity to the region so you know that sort of the the legacy I grew up with these very forward thinking guys who were not afraid of thinking big sell. We're going to dive into a legacy you started to create. I WanNa talk about you a twenty-seven now I say this because it Daniel and I were actually a year year and a half and Danielle's case younger than you when we started the scam so I say this is like fellow youthful. Ceo Cancel but we also have no Kissy to live up to and the skiff was not established in anything bigger than our couch. I want to understand kind of your mental and emotional state twenty-seven you were the youngest of your siblings and you weren't expected to necessarily take over the family business. How did that conversation begin? And where were you emotionally and realizing what a legacy you would have to uphold and expanded to the future you know? I am the third one or the last one and I think for much of my upbringing. I was kind of a I. Don't WanNa say this in a mean way but the forgotten one. I had very loving parents. They were great but they really weren't focusing on on on what I was GONNA do. I had an idea I wanted to be a journalist and I always saw myself working around news. One way or the other might big plan was to set up a news agency to cover Latin America responsibly after I graduated from Nyu J. School. But that's around the time that my father had this idea of asking me to start working at the company. We came up with title which was head of strategy which is a position that we had never had it our company so no one actually knew what I was doing and it felt very nonthreatening against. They gave me access to all the meetings and spend. I would say probably two years going to all the meetings that I thought were interesting or on the contrary that I thought were not interesting at all. Have you watched succession? Yeah that's not the case of. How did it like a very peaceful and Organiz family so I wrote a paper of sort of the state of the business and the marks? I thought we were missing and I think we should be going. And that's what ended up getting me into trouble. The paper was very well received but unfortunately they told me that. If I wrote that paper I was the one that was going to have to execute on it and dots. What kind of formalized this whole conversation around me becoming? Ceo when that conversation started. Did you have a minute of terror or were you excited because there are so many things to be excited about but at the end of the day that's enormous responsibility? You know at the beginning. I really didn't want to have a conversation in. I really didn't want the job because I didn't think I was ready or that. I could do it but I've learned in time that when very smart people suggest things over and over again sometimes even if you don't see it you have to go for it because they're obviously seeing things from from an angle. That's different from yours and that's kind of what happened here. I had both are a CEO at the time. Who was brilliant. Who had worked for us for over thirty years and my father who had sort of the legacy in the memory insisting that this was a good idea that I was the person for the job so at one point I said fine even though I think it's a terrible idea I'm willing to consider it. And we were very structured into what considering it meant. We kind of identify what were the key areas that I needed to learn more about in terms of the job and in also in terms of education and ultimately those were the things that got me to feel more comfortable until the day came on like your three of this secret conversation where I said. Okay I got it. I think I can do this. How'd your siblings react to it They were thrilled. You know I think for both of them. They're very proud of of the fact that we have been around for almost a hundred years. That's very rare accomplishment for most family businesses most of them dwindle between the second and third generation. So I think they were. They were very excited about me coming aboard and potentially being committed to the job these for the next twenty years one of the things I read that you and your dad meet it deal with each other that you would always have to pick up his phone call. Yup so I'm living with my parents right now and go bed. I will say down. They're both very close to our families. Don't always say this softly so parents don't hear I don't always pick up their calls so walk us through kind of the dynamic between you and your dad at how you're able to preserve an important personal relationship contained. Amac with obviously one where I assume has. Guidance and experience has been instrumental. That rule still stands. I do always pick up the phone when he calls. It doesn't always mean that I'm going to talk to him. I can say you know. I'm in the middle of doing a podcast. And he understands you know. I've been lucky. I think that my father and I have a wonderful relationship first and foremost. He's my super friend. We connect in a way that is very special. We get each other. I love that description. He's the first person I call when I have a really crazy idea. And he's the first person that understands the crazy idea. So first and foremost I would describe him as a friend secondly I would describe him as my father and thirdly described him as a mentor. And what's really cool about being able to do that? In three categories is that we're pretty disciplined about keeping things separate. We can have very heated debate over family issue or a business issue and we don't let one thing influence the other if we're not in agreement about something of working on If he comes around for dinner and were sitting around with their kids. That energy doesn't translate into the dinner table and I think that's really important because I don't believe in contaminating your professional impersonal spaces with each other so we couldn't agree more yet when you started. You had ideas about restructuring. How did you actually take those ideas begin to put them into place being a brand new? Ceo so I took over after a very difficult period for our for our business group in nineteen ninety eight. When he'll travis the now defunct dictator in Venezuela who took over the country. We made a decision to leave both as a family and as a business and we moved their headquarters to Miami the following five or six years after that were really difficult. Chavez had declared my father enemy of the state US owning the biggest TV network in the country was really the reason why they didn't like us. Because we believe obviously in pre enterprise in free speech and those were two words that that didn't resonate well with the government so we left as a business we spend the next six seven years on survival mode. We were trying to figure out how to deal with a huge crisis in Venezuela where we still maintain our businesses the constant pressure from the government. It was a very difficult time. And the number one priority for all of our senior leadership was to figure out how to survive that crisis. So when I took over what I saw was that a company that for the first ninety years or eighty five years of its history had been innovating decade after decade had press pause on that because they were very busy in simply surviving. There were in triage mode. And there was a little bit of Post traumatic stress. I would say so. The first thing that I saw was that as a media company who had always been on the vanguard we were always the first ones to do things radically different way ahead of time. We kinda missed out on the past ten years in the past ten years meant the digital revolution. So obviously you know being of the digital age. The first thing that I did was to really think what we needed to do with the whole digital strategy for our company and two things came from there was a bit retroactive. Which was how do we used the digital platforms? How do we integrate them into our existing media capabilities? So that gave birth to a lot of things that now seem super commonplace which was to develop digital properties related to analog properties that you would see on television. The second part that I think was more interesting was that we saw at the time. The only video platform out there was youtube and we had a lot of content that we were producing being posted on Youtube. Not by US or by our network here in the United States which was univision by by third parties and it was generating hundreds of thousands of us and there was no one. Monetize that so. We're like there's a huge missed opportunity. Here obviously no has set up an agency focused on Hispanic audiences that was the insight that gave birth into us. Creating what is now the largest digital advertising network that America called Cisneros Interactive through which we represent facebook instagram. What's up that's one of The new verticals that now defined as business group. I love that story in a lot of questions about how you adapt forward thinking into an organ around a core group of leaders. But I think you know. Obviously we're talking to you. In the middle of all of us across the world. Quarantining and a lot of companies are making very painful decisions around restructuring around doubling down on a core part of their business and I'm curious for those listening who are thinking about how to preserve their own business or might be an employee at a business. It's also making tough decisions. How do you think about restructuring? And what would you say to them? The moment that something feels like it's extra or a little fluffy is the moment that you really have to put that in a list of things you should get rid of in. That could be anything from teams to initiatives to physical places. And that's a general rule and I think when you have crisis like the one we're having right now. Those issues surface much quicker and in a way it is kind of a unique opportunity to really think about what really matters to the core of that business and we think that decisions are really hard We've seen a lot of industries having to make very radical changes. You know like the hotel industry here in Miami when the Saudi. We're going to be shut down for three months. They've furloughed percent of their employees. Fortunately we're not in that industry. What's been interesting for us. This time around. Is that with our AD network. We HAVE OVER THIRTY OFFICES IN LATIN AMERICA IN EIGHTEEN. Different countries and the virus is affecting each country differently with different intensity in different timeframes as well so we don't really have a blanket strategy of what we're doing in terms of the virus we really do have to take it case by case so. That's a huge jigsaw puzzle. And we're spending a few hours on that every day. So part of this new work from home reality is a lot a lot of video calls so many back to back all day long. They one of the low points of my life recently was when somebody told me to try a filter on the video and I informed them that I already was filtered and since I no longer wear. Makeup only wear sweatpants. It's really up to my skin to pull through so lucky for us. We discovered something that keeps our skin looking healthier and more arrested. It's estee lauder advanced night repair. It keeps US looking and feeling virtual camera ready lightweight and oil free serum your pillow cases will thank you. It fights the look of key signs of aging so you can wake up to more rested healthier looking skin when over. Five hundred women tried it. Eighty percent notice more arrested healthier looking skin in four weeks their skin felt more hydrated and had a radiant glow head to ESTEE LAUDER DOT COM to learn more. That's E. S. T. L. A. U. D. E. R. DOT COM STARTS TONIGHT WITH ESTEE. Lauder advanced night repair serum in time of change. I'm thinking you know obviously time Colbrad did. It's so many moving parts but also thinking about what you just spoke through when you were coming on the restructuring that you did. How did you gain and keep the trust of your team? Yeah so you know one advice that I could give any. Aspiring CEO is when restructuring is going to be part of your job. Do it sooner rather than later because when it sooner you actually see things much more clearer and you're not attached to the past do not attached to legacy. You're not attached to the way things were done when I knew I was going to be taking over a CEO but we still haven't made it public. We had three or four off sites that I would host at home where we would brainstorm with. Our you know our leaders of each of each divisions in terms of how we saw the future but I realized that what was going to be really cool was instead of having the media people discuss media and so forth. We actually just mixed everybody. We have mixed groups with different expertise trying to see what the future looks like and that help us really reorganize the company and and see what was the fact that we needed to trim what I learned in the process. Is that bringing people together. That come from different backgrounds and industries to problem solve a really good idea more perspectives. That you have are the better. The best ideas came from people that had nothing to do with what we were trying to solve for. And then what I also learned. Is that letting go of people is really hard. And it's really hard especially if they've never done anything wrong in their job to simply because they became redundant. Those are one of the most difficult conversations I had to have and I wish I had more training in to how to let go of people successfully because I do carry that weight around me still. I WanNa talk about future planning so Danielle and I over last few years have really tried to build at muscle and we always like to say you know. Our team is in twenty twenty by twenty twenty two twenty twenty three and I was really proud of that and then I read about you and turns out. You're like twenty sixty. You are very dedicated to thinking at minimum fifty years into the future. Most people can't fathom what's happening next week top to us about what you're planning cycle looks like and why that is such a core part of your leadership style you know. I like to say that it's very important in our case to be able to play it short end long by long. I mean that when you're carrying on your shoulders one hundred years of history and you spend a lot of time understanding what were the key factors that made that possible. You realize that. There's a lot to protect so every decision every major decision that you're making in my major decision. I mean if you're going to launch a completely new initiative if you're GONNA make a big investment into something that's completely new if you're going to bring in a partner. It's very important that you pay it forward. They try to think. How is that going to impact who we are as a business for the next ten fifteen or twenty years and I think that's that's been a really cool exercise because it you know it. It just keeps everybody very honest when you're thinking that far in advance you're projecting what the outcome of the decisions can be kind of keeps you from for making bad decisions or working with bad people or partnering with bad companies and it also gives you the ability to make better financial decisions that are probably not perhaps not risky by that are gonNa keep you afloat when things get complicated and that's definitely proven to be the case during the few recessions that we've had in our lifetime having said that we also are very good at playing very short we as a business group were known for making decisions very big decisions very quickly to move on opportunities very quickly to execute very quickly. But I'm sure if I wasn't running a a very old family business and I was just doing a job that I thought it was gonna be doing for five or ten years I don't think I would be as obsessed as what the next fifty years might look like. A short part is really interesting because I think as leaders of growing startup we would love to be able to say that we make decisions quickly and knock things quickly but we always do. I think that that is a theme that we hear a lot from growing companies. What do you think it that has allowed you to set up a team to evaluate and make those decisions quickly? So that's A. that's an excellent question. My grandfather believed that. He didn't want his core team to be specialists. He wanted them to be generalists. And so he believed in having a team of ten fifteen twenty executives that were very well rounded that could be given the task to run any of our new businesses until the new teams of specialists. Were set up. A group of twenty executives has stayed with the company for a very long time. Where groomed in that way so they were great leaders. Were very good at organizing and deploying without having to be specialists in different industries. And that's something that's very much in the DNA over company and it's very much the spirit of how we do things and my core is like that we are all generalists. None of us are excellent at anything. But we're very good at a lot of things and I think that allows us to be on the one. Very quick study is on the other hand to not be biased towards ideas one or the other and united we can. We're bringing such different perspectives. That we can. We can decide if something is good or bad rather quickly than the next step is saying. Okay we're not the experts now. We really need to bring in the best experts that we can to run and execute on a new venture. Ariza the phrase that people say all the time to lead by example and I think that's something easily turned around but I'm really curious what that means to you and especially in the context of the enormous influence that this company has a lot in America where there's a lot of volatile political situations that come up. There is a lot of corruption that you guys have to navigate as the business has expanded and especially as you've taken over what is leading by example mean in your day to day what is leading by example mean when you think about this narratives role in the world fundamentally in our DNA we believe in doing good and we do think that doing good is really good for business as well every time that we come up with a a really bold idea of a new business that can change a country or continent or region. There's a part of our brain that's thinking. How can we use this new initiative the energy around the new initiative to create something that will also be beneficial for society as a whole assault given example when we launched direct TV in Latin America? That was in the early nineties. We realized what the power connectivity through. Tv was going to be an. We wondered how that could be used for educational purposes. This was at a time in Latin America when they had just started putting televisions inside classrooms with educational programming. And we said wow. Wouldn't it be interesting? If we launch a PAN regional educational channel in Spanish. That can be part of the school system during the day but could be family channel in the afternoons in the evenings so that parents could learn together with teachers. That channel was called classy. It was a huge success. One of the programs that we had on there was called English highway which was sort of how to learn English and to this day I meet people at Random Conference at. Tell me the reason we learned English was because we used to watch English highway. So these initiatives were massive. Meant that we had to work with the Ministry of Education of every country to understand what the curriculum was to understand with. The technology was available to understand how we would be able to get the signal of this TV channel in there. What training the teachers needed and so forth. We just do that because we think it's it's the right thing to do. And we have an opportunity to contribute positively to development of our society. It's the backbone of who we are DNA and and going back to your question about bribery in politics in all of that goes back to this perspective of playing very long. You know if if you're GONNA be around for the next twenty years you have to be a good citizen and you have to treat your neighbors with transparency so obviously going down a path that is not honest and transparent would be sustainable for a business this trying to be around for so much longer. So it's it's very clear for us talking about the long game when you think about fifty years from now when people are looking back and talking about you as CEO. I think it's very clear the elements that you've brought interior leadership from your father and your grandfather. What do you think are the things that are distinctly are uniquely traits of your leadership style? I and I think this is probably something that resonates with a lot of people generation and I have a feeling. It's probably the way that you guys run the skin as well as I believe in a much flatter and the organization that the one that I took over it was probably combination of percival being so young and second of all trying to figure out how I was going to be the CEO for people that were twenty years older than me who had been at the job for so much longer building an organization that is much flatter and that is much more transparent in terms of the open conversations that we have with Team ended up being a really good idea for us. So we're GONNA switch now to our difficult segment the lightning round. Go work from home edition. Okay are you ready? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Both which means that. My days are very very long. Now that we're all working from home. What's replaced your morning. Commute having longer breakfasts with my family which has been really nice thing. Can you skim your nighttime routine earth? A lot of things have changed with this whole whole thing. I used to either by cried very early in the morning or very late in the evening and now since the day seemed to be so long. I'm trying to exercise like mid day to just break it up and that's actually been really helpful so the afternoons have changed. The afternoon is now the time that actually get to be physically with my kids Instead of US doing either earning resume conference calls. I try to be their coach into an hour of exercise with them and like. You're an intense coach. I I would. I would fail as your time. We always have dinner as a family. We have very strict obviously no electronics at the table. Rule and our dinners last an hour. You know which is nice even even a Non Koga Times. Try to dinner. Yes always unless we have something for work but if we're home we all have dinner and then after that you know. We try to put the kids to bed. But it's sort of. It's becoming a very wholesome schedule now that we're all home. We have so much more time to do things that should be normal. What's the last show that you binge watched? I hate to admit this but tiger king. Oh Yeah I don't know why I'm trying to nine. I can't look away. What about me is it made me no one other away in in times of Colbrad since? We're all home a lot more to have a favorite quick dinner that you've been making days that. I'm really happy to spend a couple of hours cooking because I find it kind of therapeutic. So I'll do something more elaborate L. Rose something and they're days that the idea of spending two hours in the kitchen is the last thing I want to do because I just WanNa be outside and do something else so about once a week. I'll do a lot of pasta sauces bullying and so forth. We FREEZE THEM. So my quick one is to just do some pasta with frozen homemade sauce and idiot. Abyss has been great. Thank you so much for for making the time during a very crazy crazy time in our world stay safe and healthy and thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much bye guys. Thanks for hanging out with us. Join US next week for another episode of skin from the couch. And if you can't wait until then subscribe to our daily email newsletter that gives you all the important news and information you need to start your day sign up at the Skim Dot Com. That's the S. K. I. M. Dot Com. M's a little something extra.

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